Ondrej Pavelec spent Monday in his native Czech Republic and Jets general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff was in Hilton Head, South Carolina. Come October, though, they'll be together again in Winnipeg.
Goalie - WPG
GAA: 2.91 | Sv%: 0.906
Pavelec, who was due to become a restricted free agent this summer, and the Jets agreed to a new five-year contract, the team announced Monday, which will keep the goaltender in Winnipeg through the end of the 2017-18 season.
TSN's Bob McKenzie has reported the deal as worth $19.5 million for an average annual salary cap hit of $3.9 million.
"I'm really happy that I have the chance to stay here in Winnipeg and stay for five years," Pavelec said during a conference call Monday afternoon. "That's all you're looking for, to stay in the city you like with the great fans there. I always said that I like Winnipeg and I'm really happy for a deal right now and I'm just looking forward."
Pavelec, who turns 25 this August, is coming off the best season of his NHL career after setting a career-high with 29 wins in 68 games, the most he's played in a season in his full career. He finished with a 2.91 goals-against average (the second-best mark of his career), a .906 save percentage and four shutouts. He was a pivotal part of a Winnipeg team that surprised many by challenging for a playoff spot for a significant portion of the season just months after the franchise moved to Manitoba from Atlanta.
The Jets ultimately finished 11th in the Eastern Conference, eight points out of the final playoff spot.
For Pavelec, his 2011-12 campaign continued a stretch in which he improved his win total for the fifth consecutive season of his career. It was also the first time he posted a winning record, a positive sign given that it was by far the largest workload of his NHL career.
"I believe that he is one of the best young goaltenders in the game right now," Cheveldayoff said Monday. "He's someone that at the minor-league level won a championship, has come in and earned his opportunity to become a No. 1 goaltender at the National Hockey League level and we believe that he's going to continue that trend in an upward fashion. As we grow as a team, we expect Ondrej to grow."
Monday's announcement also put to rest any anxiety that Pavelec might have been considering going back to Europe to continue his career. It was no secret to both hockey professionals and the hockey media alike that Pavelec had been presented with a significant offer to come to Russia and be a goaltender in the KHL. While Cheveldayoff was quick to note that his group was looking at the negotiations purely from the Jets' perspective, Pavelec did not beat around the bush regarding the competing offers. For Pavelec, however, the decision was an easy one.
"Everybody knows that I had the offer from the KHL," Pavelec said. "I always wanted to stay in Winnipeg. I've said that so many times. Like I said, everybody knows this. I had the deal, I had the option to go to the KHL. It was really good money. It was really good, but firstly what I was thinking was that I wanted to stay in Winnipeg and that's exactly what happened."
"I'm really happy that I have the chance to stay here in Winnipeg and stay for five years. That's all you're looking for, to stay in the city you like with the great fans there. I always said that I like Winnipeg and I'm really happy for a deal right now and I'm just looking forward."
-- Winnipeg goalie Ondrej Pavelec on signing a five-year extension with the Jets
The deal also keeps Pavelec with the only organization he has been apart of in professional hockey, as he was drafted in the second round by the then-Atlanta Thrashers in the 2005 Draft. After a very impressive 2007-08 season with the AHL's Chicago Wolves, Pavelec eventually worked his way into a larger and larger role with the Thrashers before securing the full-time starting job this season after the franchise moved to Winnipeg.
While Pavelec will earn nearly $20 million over the life of the contract, the pact does run through what would have potentially been the first two seasons after he could have become an unrestricted free agent, making both the numbers and the length of the contract something of a gamble for both the Jets and Pavelec. Still, the prospect of potentially missing out on a more lucrative deal down the road wasn't enough of a reason for Pavelec to turn down the chance at long-term stability, as well as the chance to be with an organization he feels is moving in the right direction and in front of a fan base that quickly became known throughout the League for its rabid support.
"Absolutely not," Pavelec said, when asked if it was difficult to sign a deal that ran past when he could become an unrestricted free agent. "As long as I can stay in Winnipeg, it's better for me. Like I said, it's something I was looking for and it was easy to sign a five-year deal.
"The fans have been unbelievable all year long and sometimes we didn't play the best hockey, but they were always behind us and they always supported us. It was fun to be a part of it."
For the Jets and Cheveldayoff, knowing that the organization is taken care of in the crease for the next half-decade is a significant development, but he stressed Monday that even more significant was the fact that Pavelec seemed so eager to remain with the franchise. As Cheveldayoff continues the process of turning Winnipeg into a contender and a free agent destination, it was clear he felt the new contract with Pavelec could be a significant influence on how the front office will be able to build the team in the coming years.
"There's no question -- having strong stable goaltending is very important," Cheveldayoff said. "Ondrej is a young player that is still coming into his own with respect to the best years of a goaltender's career, so we're very excited about locking Ondrej up and we're even actually more excited that Ondrej wants to commit and be a part of the process of the Winnipeg Jets moving forward."
Author: David Kalan | NHL.com Staff Writer